armageddon over wacken

A week ago was the 23rd annual Wacken Open Air heavy metal festival. I wasn’t there, but having made 11 previous trips to the festival, it’s definitely an important part of my life. In the weeks after a Wacken ends–particularly one where I’ve had to see it from afar–I’m usually nostalgic for the German metal party, and I seek solace in two things: wine, and my collection of Wacken DVDs.

wacken dvds

My collection of Wacken DVDs.

I own a copy of the live performance DVD of every Wacken I have been to, with the exception of 2001 (they didn’t make one) and 2011 (I haven’t bought it yet). Of all of them, my favorite is Armageddon Over Wacken–Live 2003. It’s ten years old but remains not only my favorite Wacken DVD, but also one of my favorite overall movies, guaranteed to lift my spirits no matter what.

This film was made by Roax Films and directed, I think, by Ronald Matthes. It came out right before the 2004 festival (his sequel, covering that year, is almost even more epic). I don’t know why they eventually ditched the “Armageddon Over…” format, but this was clearly the best one. It’s hands down one of the best live metal DVDs I’ve ever seen.

This DVD is staggering in its scope.  It has two discs and 35 performances spread across two DVDs, totaling 3 hours 48 minutes of time, but the main “movie” on the first disc is 2 1/2 hours long–the length of a long, but watchable-in-one-sitting, movie.  All performances were, of course, shot and recorded live at Wacken in 2003.  They are not chronological, and there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to the order of bands shown on the DVD, but Freedom Call opens the disc, and numerous bands follow, including Running Wild, The Crown, Testament, Vader, Nile, In Flames, Metalium, Primal Fear, Rage, Sinner, Gamma Ray and Twisted Sister.  Special emphasis is put on Testament (3 tracks—“Over the Wall,” “Burnt Offerings” and “Alone in the Dark”), Nile (“Black Seeds of Vengeance,” “Blessed Dead”), Gamma Ray (“One With The World” and “Last Before the Storm”), and Twisted Sister (“Like A Knife In The Back” and “I Am, I’m Me”).  There are also performances by Victory, Saxon, Evidence One, Die Apokalyptischen Reiter, Subway to Sally, Holy Moses, Seventh One, Dark Age, Lordi, Onkel Tom, Dew-Scented, Kataklysm, CarpathianForest, Diamond Head, and Sentenced.  Like Wacken itself, the DVD showcases numerous bands cutting across all styles of metal.

The sets are filmed beautifully.  Every frame of this movie explodes with color, the sound is almost always perfect, and the direction and editing are timely and straightforward.  In addition to the bands playing onstage, there’s the requisite audience shots, showing pretty realistically the endurance test (heat, sun, dust) that Wacken fans go through, and their gleeful abandon when their favorite bands come on.  Also the beginnings and endings of tracks are liberally strewn with funny encounters with Wacken fans, shots from the camp sites and backstage areas, and many other tidbits that really show you what the Wacken festival is like as a true experience.  In my opinion it’s these items that truly bring Armageddon Over Wacken into the realm of something transcendental.

There are so many awesome tracks here that it’s hard to pin down my favorite one.  I love Gamma Ray, and their performances here are terrific.  I also love the fast-motion point-of-view journey through the Wacken village and camp site that comprises a large portion of the Evidence One track (“In The Beginning There Was Fire”), and the quiet, almost exasperated dedication of the Twisted Sister guys as they prepare backstage for their set as headliners.  But one track really stands out here, and I was shocked at which one—the very last track on the first disc, Onkel Tom’s “Bon Scott Hab Ich Noch Live Gesehen.”  This track finishes the self-contained 2 1/2 hour “movie” that comprises the first disc. It’s a hugely energetic set, but it’s meaningless without another, seemingly irrelevant bit of filler earlier in the film, where Onkel Tom attends a drinking contest in one of the side tents earlier in the day. Several drunken German fellows win the contest and the chance to come out and join Onkel Tom onstage that night. In the final track on the disc, they do. It was one of the very last sets of Wacken and there’s a sense of farewell, last-call, get-your-party-on-before-it’s-gone melancholy beneath the music and merriment. It’s really hard to describe here–you just have to see it.

I was at Wacken 2003. Of my 11 times at the festival, 2003 was in many ways the most emotional for me–for a number of very personal reasons. But I remember it almost more vividly than almost any other, which is strange considering I was too drunk to recall much of Friday night. Yet I remember the alternating heat and clouds, the temperature, the backstage parties, Gamma Ray and Twisted Sister, and driving back to Itzehoe at 3:00 in the morning. This DVD brings it all back in a way that’s very vivid and nostalgic.

It’s really hard to find this video. Searching on Amazon I see it is out of stock, but there are some used ones for sale. (If you’re in North America, be careful, most of the copies out there are PAL format). Nevertheless, it is available on Netflix, which I was surprised to see. If you love metal–even if you haven’t been to Wacken–you owe it to yourself to see this awesome film!